By Erwin, Douglas B.
Arts & Activities , Vol. 152, No. 5
In December 2010 and the early months of 2011, the world watched events taking place in the Middle East and North Africa. In what has become known as the "Arab Spring," Tunisia and Egypt were evolving into free democratic countries, while citizens of a number of other Muslim states were demanding a greater stake in free governance of their lives, with democracy being the prize goal.
For much of my teaching career, cultural diversity has been at the center of my curriculum and planning. During the late 1980s and early '90s, I spent time in the Middle East teaching peace and tolerance through the visual arts. In Israel I worked with Christian, Jewish and Islamic teachers and students in schools, civic centers, summer camps, kibbutz---even bomb shelters--often requiring interpreters.
The Bible, the Quran and the Torah all represent cultures whose ranks are considered to be "People of the Book."
All teach non-violence. The God of Abraham is the same God worshipped by Muslims, Christians and Jews. The challenge is for us to educate ourselves in order to enable our students to discern fact from fiction.
THE DISCUSSION AND THE PROJECT Teaching my fifth-graders about Islam through art was a challenge. Remembering a colleague's "Collective Architecture" project, I reworked the concept using mosque architecture as the basis for a new project. The goal was to introduce Islam and its basic tenets using the visual arts, with the hope of enhancing cultural tolerance and understanding.
To start, the students and I discussed differences and similarities in churches, mosques and synagogues. All three are used for worship, each is considered to be holy by those who use them and all are places of safety and comfort.
Students then studied photos of mosques with brief descriptions and information about each. Using white paper, thin black permanent markers and photocopies of pictures of mosques, students selected a portion of an image that interested them and drew it on their paper.
The children were so intrigued with the pictures and drawing their selections, they moaned and groaned when, after 5 minutes, they were instructed to pass their drawings to the person on their right. …